Ravens Named Potential Landing Spot for Three-Time Pro Bowl Tight End Zach Ertz
It didn't take long after the news broke that veteran tight end Zach Ertz had been granted his release by the Arizona Cardinals for speculation to begin that the Ravens might be interested in the three-time Pro Bowler.
The other team prominently mentioned by pundits was the Philadelphia Eagles, who Ertz played for from 2013-2021. Linking Ertz to the Ravens and Eagles makes sense, as both teams' starting tight ends are injured, and Ertz reportedly wants to play for a contender.
"Ertz would be a perfect fit for a Ravens team that has been bringing in journeymen tight ends for workouts to fill Mark] Andrews’ spot,” [Heavy.com’s Tony Vozza wrote. "It would take the pressure off of Isaiah Likely and would give another weapon to quarterback Lamar Jackson. The biggest competition for his services will likely be the Philadelphia Eagles, as Ertz played for the Eagles for nine years before joining the Cardinals."
USA Today’s Cory Woodruff wrote: "Ertz could be a really valuable piece for a Baltimore team that loves to utilize tight ends in its passing attack, as quarterback Lamar Jackson would probably love to have a solid veteran like Ertz joining the roster this time of year."
Whether Ertz will be available if either team is interested in him is not a certainty, as he could be claimed off waivers, the order of which is determined by winning percentage. The Ravens (No. 31) and Eagles (No. 32) are at the bottom of the waiver wire order.
While Ertz would be a solid addition, the Ravens like Likely, who had a couple of big games last season and had four catches for 40 yards against the Chargers last week. They also have Charlie Kolar, who played well during the preseason, on the roster, as well as Travis Vokolek and Scotty Washington on the practice squad.
Ertz, 33, had 27 catches for 187 yards and a touchdown in seven games this season before suffering a quad injury. He had 47 catches for 406 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games last season.
Pressing Questions for Ravens Heading Into Final Five Games
The Ravens are one of the best teams in the NFL through 12 weeks, but with four of their final games against teams currently in a playoff position, there are still questions to be answered.
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker looked at what we still need to learn about the Ravens. Here are some excerpts:
Can Justin Tucker and the Ravens' special teams return to excellence?
"Tucker has spoiled us. That much was obvious from the minor panic that ensued after he missed a rushed 44-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter against the Chargers. … With the miss, Tucker was no longer the most accurate kicker in history, falling behind the Atlanta Falcons' Younghoe Koo. Fans fired off social media posts wondering if the greatest constant in recent Ravens history is suddenly diminished in his 12th season. A bit of perspective is warranted. Tucker, 34, has worked through relative dips in the past. For example, he made just eight of 19 attempts from 50 yards or beyond in 2014 and 2015. He rebounded with his greatest statistical season (38 of 39 overall, 10 of 10 from 50 yards or beyond) in 2016. His leg has appeared as strong as ever in warmups and on his wayward attempts. He's still as devoted a technician as you'll find in any sport.
"The Ravens' special teams lapses have not been limited to Tucker's misses. Spotty punt coverage is the chief culprit for their unfamiliar No. 19 ranking in special teams DVOA. Nagging injuries have periodically robbed Pro Bowl returner Devin Duvernay of his explosiveness. When they matched up with the league's best teams in years past, the Ravens counted on a marginal advantage in special teams. Their emphasis on the sport's third phase is a signature of Harbaugh's tenure. Right now, that edge is missing."
Is there a gap in the armor of the league's second-ranked defense?
"The other top defenses in the AFC North feature singular game wreckers in Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt. The Ravens present a more confounding puzzle because they attack with so many different faces doing so many different things. Their codependent rush designs and zone coverage schemes, designed to limit chunk plays, are constant but don't hinge on a single man. So where might they be vulnerable as they move into the most difficult part of their schedule, with road games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers and a New Year's Eve home date with the Miami Dolphins?
"Well, we have seen the front seven go temporarily soft against teams that run right at them. The Ravens have allowed 4.3 yards per carry, 21st in the league, and they gave up 178 rushing yards in their loss to the Browns. Some of this is a natural concession as they gear their attack toward stifling quarterbacks, but how will that look against the 49ers' Christian McCaffrey or the Dolphins' Raheem Mostert? We've also seen quarterbacks find success in the middle of the field, whether it was Cleveland's Deshaun Watson identifying soft spots in the Ravens' zone or Cincinnati's Joe Burrow picking on their linebackers. No defense can stop everything in the modern NFL, and to the Ravens' credit, they rarely show the same vulnerability two weeks in a row."
How much can the Ravens ride Keaton Mitchell as they search for a consistent offensive identity?
"The undrafted rookie from East Carolina has shocked the league's top rushing attack to historic levels of efficiency since he joined the regular lineup in the Ravens' Nov. 5 romp over the Seattle Seahawks. Mitchell is more than just a sprinter good for a few gimmicky plays to the outside. He runs through tackles, evidenced by his incredible average of 7.48 yards after contact per attempt, as charted by PFF. That's an unsustainable pace but hints at the big-play element Mitchell has brought to [Offensive Coordinator Todd] Monken's ground designs.
"If the Ravens are to avoid the fourth-quarter meltdowns that led to three defeats, this ground game — equal parts power, elusiveness and deception — will be their chief weapon. Monken and his staff weren't sure how much work to give Mitchell after he returned from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the start of the season. How would he handle the subtler arts of pass protection? How productive could he be between the tackles? Their faith in him, and the upside of an already-potent ground game, heightens weekly. Don't be surprised if he touches the ball a dozen times a game going forward."
Difficult Offseason Decisions Loom for Ravens
The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer looked ahead at difficult decisions the Ravens will have to make on a number of key players this offseason.
Here's what Shaffer had to say about four pending free agents (projected contracts and 2023 valuations, which reflect on-field performance and positional value, are courtesy of Spotrac and Over The Cap, respectively):
DL Justin Madubuike
"Projected contract: Three years, $55.4 million ($18.5 million annually)
"Big question: How desperate are the Ravens to keep Madubuike for another year? He leads all interior linemen in sacks (10) and, according to PFF, ranks fourth in pressures, behind only the Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald, New York Giants' Dexter Lawrence and Buffalo Bills' Ed Oliver. That's an upscale neighborhood for NFL general managers; Donald's deal averages $31.7 million annually, Lawrence's averages $22.5 million and Oliver's averages $17 million. A franchise tag wouldn't offer a heavy discount, either. According to Over The Cap, the 2024 tag for a defensive tackle would cost about $20.9 million. And, if Madubuike had another Pro Bowl-level season on the tag next year, his market value would only increase. The value of a compensatory pick if he left, however, would remain relatively unchanged."
ILB Patrick Queen
"Projected contract: Four years, $67.8 million ($16.9 million annually).
"Big question: How much of a force multiplier is Roquan Smith? Queen's ascent began before the Ravens traded for his running mate at inside linebacker, but the duo has moved almost in lockstep in the 13 months since Smith's arrival. … A franchise tag, with a projected cost of $23.2 million in 2024, is also unlikely here. Smith, who signed a five-year, $100 million extension last season, has a $13.5 million cap hit in 2024, with steep raises over the deal's final three years. If Ravens officials believe in the potential of third-round pick Trenton Simpson, another gifted athlete who's played mainly on special teams this season, as well as the guidance of Smith and Inside Linebackers coach Zach Orr, a slight downturn in production could be worth the significant savings in pending at the position."
OLB Jadeveon Clowney
"2023 valuation: $9.6 million.
"Big question: How much does Clowney want to stay in Baltimore? … The former No. 1 overall pick is on pace for career highs in sacks (7.5 in 12 games) and quarterback hits (17) and is eighth among edge rushers in ESPN's pass rush win rate, ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers' T.J. Watt and Cincinnati Bengals' Trey Hendrickson. With a $2.5 million cap hit, Clowney's been one of the NFL's best bargains. It might not be a long stay in Baltimore, though. The Ravens are the fourth team the 30-year-old Clowney has played for since leaving the Houston Texans in the 2019 offseason, and his injury history could make [General Manager Eric] DeCosta hesitant to re-sign him. Clowney has not been shy about expressing his admiration for the organization, from its culture to his teammates to the Ravens' defensive coaches he's known for years, but how much will that be worth in free agency? With a double-digit-sack season, he'd generate the kind of interest he didn't have this past offseason."
WR Odell Beckham Jr.
"Projected contract: One year, $3.9 million.
"Big question: What does Beckham still have in the tank? The offseason's most high-profile free-agent wide receiver has 27 catches for 408 yards and two touchdowns this season, somewhat underwhelming production for a star who signed a one-year deal worth $15 million guaranteed and then shined throughout training camp. Then again, it's easy to forget that Beckham had a quiet 2021 regular season, too. It wasn't until his playoff run with the Rams that he looked more like his vintage self. If Beckham breaks out over the next two months, he could have a rejuvenated market in free agency. If he struggles to stay healthy, or fails to produce, he won't have too many suitors at age 31. Either way, it's hard to imagine a return to Baltimore is likely."
Kyle Hamilton Among Likeliest First-Time Pro Bowlers
Next Gen Stats named the 10 likeliest players to earn their first Pro Bowl nod this season. It comes as no surprise that safety Kyle Hamilton made the list.
Hamilton, who is having a breakout Year 2 season, was ranked No. 4, with a 68 percent chance of making the Pro Bowl.
"Baltimore's top pick in last year's draft, Hamilton has seen his playtime increase from just 50.4% as a rookie to 96.3% through Week 12," The Next Gen Stats Analytics Team wrote on NFL.com. "The uptick has paid off for Hamilton and the Ravens, as the Notre Dame product has allowed the second-fewest yards per target (4.3) among all defenders who have been targeted at least 40 times this season, as well as the second-fewest EPA (-19.5) among safeties. Hamilton has also excelled as a pass rusher, generating the second-most pressures (15) and tying for the most sacks (three) among defensive backs this season."
Cornerback Brandon Stephens received honorable mention.
Joe Flacco Might Start for Browns on Sunday
The chances that former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco could start for the Cleveland Browns this Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams are increasing.
With rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson continuing to go through the concussion protocol, Flacco took reps with the first team in practice Wednesday and Thursday.
The Super Bowl XLVII MVP signed with the Browns last week in the wake of starting quarterback Deshaun Watson suffering a season-ending shoulder injury against the Ravens in Week 10.
Flacco, 38, has made a strong first impression on his teammates and coaches in Cleveland.
"He's an elite arm, there's no question," Cleveland Offensive Coordinator Alex Van Pelt said via the Browns website. "If you put it on a scale of one to five, I'd say he's a five. His ball flight, his velocity on the ball at every level of the field is very impressive. But guys got excited. He threw some balls against the scout team last week, and guys in the back were kind of fired up."
Wide receiver Amari Cooper said: "He throws a very pretty ball. I don't know if it's intentional or what, but when he drops back and he lets it go, the whole motion is like poetry in motion. It looks good."